Raising the game;Leading article

15th January 1999 at 00:00
THE INSPECTORATE gives a formal verdict on school standards every three years. In practice, judgment is passed much more frequently. For example, weaknesses in S1 and S2, mentioned in this week's report (page ????) have been highlighted many times before. Come the Holyrood parliament, HMIs will find themselves regularly called on to pronounce as MSPs find something with which to flex their muscles.

Unsurprisingly the senior chief inspector, who like his minister mixes praise and blame, finds himself repeating the admonitions of three years ago. Weaknesses continue, whether in the study of English language and maths or in the leadership of a minority of schools.

Whereas it would be as fair to point out that most primaries teach writing well as to headline the 40-plus per cent with shortcomings, the Inspectorate is right to focus on the 5 per cent of heads who are unsatisfactory. The Association of Headteachers in Scotland would no doubt emphasise the other 95 per cent, but 100 schools badly led are damaging children's prospects.

The Education Minister does not want to pre-empt her White Paper, which in election mode will re-emphasise Labour's commitment to standards as well as to investment. But it is clear from the weaknesses identified by the Inspectorate where the Government will seek to intervene. Legislation to extend the powers of the General Teaching Council will address the problem of serious inadequacies in the classroom and among school managers. The hoped-for answer to S1 and S2 performance will be sought in more rigorous testing.

Barely more hidden is the message putting education authorities on trial. The report tells them to raise their game, and the implication for post-devolution turf wars is that if schools do not show significant results, central government will take a more direct hand.

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